region M Area 102a larger picture

Rolling Till Prairie

Most of this area is in the Western Lake Section of the Central Lowland Province of the Interior Plains.
The center of the Prairie Coteau, in northeastern South Dakota, is in the Dissected Till Plains Section of the same province and division.

58% of this area is in Minnesota.
42% is in South Dakota.
A small part is in North Dakota.

Total Land Area 16,545 square miles (42,870 square kilometers).

Towns/cities include:
Fergus Falls, Marshall, Montevideo, Morris, and Willmar, Minnesota
Brookings, Milbank, and Watertown, South Dakota.

The Pipestone National Monument is in the part of this area in Minnesota.
There are many wildlife areas located within this area
The eastern edge of the Central Flyway and the western edge of the Atlantic Flyway are included within this MLRA.


The Prairie Coteau is one of the more prominent landforms in North America. The northern tip of this wedge-shaped highland is in North Dakota. This high area split the last continental ice sheet into the Des Moines and James Lobes.

The Cretaceous Pierre Shale underlies the till in most of the area. Precambrian rocks also occur at depth. Granite is quarried at Milbank, South Dakota, and outcrops of Sioux Quartzite are common. Layers of silt in the quartzite near Pipestone, Minnesota, were quarried by Native Americans, and the stone was carved for pipe bowls.

The MLRA is dominated by till-covered moraines. The dominant landforms in this area are stagnation moraines, end moraines, glacial outwash plains, terraces, and flood plains.

The stagnation moraines are gently undulating to steep and have many depressions and poorly defined drainages. The steepest slopes are on escarpments adjacent to some of the larger tributaries. Small outwash areas are adjacent to the watercourses.

This area has nearly level to rolling topography that has many depressions and ill-defined drainages. Prairie pothole lakes and ponds are common.

Topography -

Elevation generally ranges from 1,000 to 1,350 feet (305 to 410 meters) on lowlands and from 1,350 to 1,650 feet (410 to 505 meters) on uplands.

Isolated highs on the Prairie Coteau, in South Dakota, are at an elevation of more than 2,000 feet (610 meters).


The average annual precipitation in this area is 19 to 29 inches (485 to 735 millimeters).
Rainfall typically occurs as high-intensity, convective thunderstorms during the summer.
The average annual temperature is 38 to 45 degrees F (4 to 7 degrees C).
The freeze-free period averages about 155 days and ranges from 140 to 175 days.

Major Hydrologic Unit Areas

Name Code Extent*
Minnesota (0702) 42%
Missouri-Big Sioux (1017) 25%
Red (0902 ) 17%
James (1016) 10%
Mississippi Headwaters (0701) 5%
Des Moines (7010) 1%

* this is the percent of area drained by each named hydrologic unit

The headwaters of the Red River of the North (draining into Hudson Bay) is in this area. Some of the major tributaries to the Red River are the Sand Hill, Poplar, Marsh, Wild Rice, Buffalo, Otter Tail, Mustinka, and Bois de Sioux Rivers

The headwaters of the Minnesota River (draining into the Mississippi River) are in this area. The major tributaries to the Minnesota River are the Chippewa, Pomme de Terre, Whetstone, Lac qui Parle, Yellow Medicine, and Cottonwood Rivers.

The Big Sioux River begins in this area, near Watertown, South Dakota.
Lake Traverse and Big Stone Lake are on the border between South Dakota and Minnesota. These lakes are on the continental divide where streams drain either north to Hudson Bay or south to the Gulf of Mexico. Lakes, ponds, and marshes are common in the area.


Estimated withdrawls in this MLRA:
Public supply surface water 2.4% ground water 11.7%
Livestock surface water 0.4% ground water 11.1%
Irrigation surface water 34.9% ground water 30.2%
Other surface water 1% ground water 8.3%

Total daily withdrawls average 145 million gallons per day (550 million liters).
61% Ground water sources
39% Surface water sources

Small ponds and shallow wells are the principal sources of water for livestock. Both surface water and ground water are used for some irrigation in the area. Many natural glacial lakes are in the northern part of the area, and many of the larger ones are used for recreation.

The water in the lakes and larger streams is generally suitable for all uses. The quality of the water in the smaller streams is generally poor. The water is slightly saline at low flows.

Shallow wells in glacial outwash deposits, primarily sand and gravel, provide water for livestock, domestic use, and irrigation in this area. This water is hard but is of good quality.

The median level of total dissolved solids is 350 parts per million (milligrams per liter). Ground water also is available in deep wells in the Precambrian bedrock in this area or in the Dakota Sandstone. These aquifers are seldom utilized in this area because of an abundance of shallow glacial deposits and surface water.


  • Frigid soil temperature regime.
  • Aquic or udic soil moisture regime.
  • Mixed mineralogy.
  • Dominant Soils:

  • Mollisols
  • Soils are generally very deep, and range from well drained to very poorly drained, and loamy.

    Great Group Series Location
    Hapludolls Barnes, Forman, and Hokans series formed in loamy till
    Kranzburg, Poinsett, and Waubay series in loess or silty drift over till
    Egeland and Embden series in eolian deposits
    Arvilla,Fordville, and Renshaw series in glacial outwash on till plains and moraines.
    Calciudolls Buse and Balaton series formed in loamy till on rises and ridges.
    Argiaquolls Parnell and Badger series formed in loamy till and colluvial and alluvial sediment in swales and depressions.
    Argialbolls Tonka series formed in colluvial and alluvial sediment in depressions
    Endoaquolls Quam series formed in colluvial and alluvial sediment in depressions
    Lamoure and Rauville series and in alluvial sediment on flood plains .
    Calciaquolls Marysland and Moritz series formed in alluvial sediments on flood plains.

    Fauna and Flora

    This area supports true prairie vegetation characterized by big bluestem, little bluestem, porcupinegrass, and green needlegrass. Needleandthread and prairie dropseed are important species on the steeper soils. Prairie cordgrass commonly grows in wet areas.

    Some of the major wildlife species in this area include whitetailed deer, beaver, muskrat, mink, pheasant, gray partridge, many duck species, chestnut-collared longspur, marbled godwit, and upland plover and other prairie birds.

    Land Use

    66% - Cropland - private
    17% - Grassland - private
    1% - - Federal
    3% - Forest - private
    0% - - Federal
    3% - Urban development - private
    6% - Water - private
    4% - Water - Federal
    6% - Other - private

    Most of this area is in farms, and about two-thirds of this land is cropland.

    The principal crops are corn, soybeans, alfalfa, spring wheat, and oats. Wooded areas generally occur as narrow bands along streams and rivers or as shelterbelts around farmsteads. Recreational hunting and fishing are important land uses around the many natural lakes in the northern part of the area.

    The major resource concerns include are wind erosion, water erosion, maintenance of the content of organic matter and productivity of the soils, soil wetness, and management of soil moisture.

    Conservation practices generally include systems of crop residue management, especially no-till or other conservation tillage systems that conserve moisture and contribute to soil quality. Other practices include terraces, vegetative wind barriers, grassed waterways, and nutrient management.

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